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The Care and Feeding of Warriors: How Mists of Pandaria exposes the warrior past

Matthew Rossi

Every week, WoW Insider brings you The Care and Feeding of Warriors, the column dedicated to arms, fury and protection warriors. Despite repeated blows to the head from dragons, demons, Old Gods and whatever that thing over there was, Matthew Rossi will be your host.

I have been playing a warrior since early December of 2004. I started the game when my wife (well, my wife now; we weren't married yet at the time) introduced me to it. She'd been playing in the beta, really enjoyed it, and thought I would too, since I was a huge Dungeons & Dragons nerd. In a rare example of my listening to someone else, I rolled a paladin (I often played paladins) and played him for two or three weeks before realizing a few things.
  • I didn't want to heal. Not at all. Not even a little bit.
  • People kept assuming I would do so.
  • I loathed every aspect of playing a paladin, right down to the names of the abilities.
  • I could, in fact, fix all of this by simply playing something other than a paladin.
This led me back to the character creation screen, where I was faced with the decision of what to play if I didn't want to play a paladin. Since when I played D&D, my #1 choice was usually either a ranger or a paladin, I considered hunter, but they didn't seem remotely melee enough for my tastes. Plus, my wife was already playing one. Then while looking at the classes, I tried out a warrior and read a few lines. Next thing I knew, I was killing wolves in Northshire.

Almost seven years later, that character is still here. He's had four race changes and a faction swap, but he's still here. So is the second warrior I rolled (he's a worgen now) and the third (a draenei) and the fourth (a tauren). I fell wholly, completely, and deeply in love with the warrior class, and I've never fallen out of love with it, despite its ups and downs over the years.

Changing again and again

I won't stand here and tell you that the warrior is the best class in WoW or anything silly like that. Clearly, I believe it is, at least for me, but I'm not quite egocentric enough to tell you that I can't see why you'd feel differently. There are classes with more focus and classes with more versatility. There are classes that can heal. All warriors do is hit things, ultimately. There's no ranged spec, nothing but tanking or DPSing in a purely physical manner. Just setting it down here on the monitor, it may seem that the warrior is a dull class. It lacks special companion pets, shapeshifting, stealth, necromantic magic, holy power or what have you.

But frankly, it's the way the class makes use of its simple basis (hitting and yelling) and its resource mechanic that have kept me engaged for the past years. And what I really have loved about the warrior is the opportunity I've gotten in every expansion to relearn the class. The warrior from classic WoW shares the same DNA with the warrior that's coming in Mists of Pandaria, but at the same time the designers have all the lessons of the iterations of The Burning Crusade, Wrath and Cata to learn from, and so have we playing it.

I remember the first time I got to use Charge. Charge is an ability that defines early warrior leveling, and it was even back when you got it at level 10 in the original game. To this day, whenever I roll an alt of any class, Charge is the ability I miss first and most often. Back then, it only worked out of combat, so there were times I was all set to charge only to be denied, but in Mists of Pandaria, you'll be able to charge as long as you're at range to do it. Quite frankly, this is the kind of change that caused me to think about how the warrior has changed and grown over the years. Both Wrath of the Lich King and Cataclysm made charge more versatile, and the most recent change just builds on that framework.

There have been so many developments over the past seven years that it can be hard to really sit down and see them. Just as one example, when I first tanked in Molten Core, I had to switch stances to put Thunder Clap on a boss. We didn't get the ability to use Thunder Clap in defensive stance until patch 2.0.10, which was almost two months into The Burning Crusade when warriors were clearly falling behind as tanks. And even then, the target limit on Thunder Clap wasn't removed until patch 3.0.2. the first Wrath of the Lich King patch in October 2008.

Gyres, widening and otherwise

When I think back to my first time tanking, a Scarlet Monastery run when I was level 39 (if one doesn't count a couple of abortive Deadmines runs), I really had no idea what I was doing, and there weren't all that many places to go to find out what to do. What's really interesting to consider is how each patch, each expansion has taken the foundation of warrior tanking from those days, tweaked it in some ways and preserved it in others.

We're heading into the fourth major redesign of World of Warcraft -- and in some ways, the most radical one yet -- but we can still look at what we're expected to do and see the roots of what we did back when Molten Core was the pinnacle of raiding and people put together 15-man groups to run Upper Blackrock Spire. (I was one of the first people on my server with a Seal of Ascension, which I still carry around in my bags many years and servers later.) Using Shield Block to push damage off of the table, hitting our debuffs and our threat generation moves -- it's all streamlined in Mists, but it's all still there. What I'm happiest to see is that the increased mobility we gained in Wrath is remaining, as it's stood out as distinctive of the class ever since.

Anyone who ever tanked on a warrior in The Burning Crusade can tell you, it was the hardest you ever had to work to hold aggro on multiple mobs. I actually developed a cyst on my right wrist from the strain of tab/Devastate/Cleave/TC spamming to try and get threat on the dragonhawk adds in Zul'Aman. Compared to a paladin or druid, it just wasn't feasible.

Filed under "Damage, dealing thereof"

Both arms and fury have grown more complex as DPS specs from their earliest days. Arms has moved from a primarily PvP/debuff spec to a more complex and engaging but still approachable DPS spec. Quite frankly, arms' renaissance began during Wrath but was perfected with the introduction of Colossus Smash in Cataclysm, acting as a tent pole around which the rest of the spec's priorities hung efficiently.

Still, most DPS warriors (and indeed, quite a few tanks) were primarily arms warriors in the classic WoW era. Mortal Strike's power in PvP meant that many warriors specced for it, especially in the days before dual specs. I remember every tank on Ebonroc having Mortal Strike to keep him from healing. Today, arms is a DPS spec in its own right and not on the strength of its debuffs.

Fury has seen its share of ups and downs over the years. Currently on a down patch, it's been the dominant warrior DPS spec for years since about the end of The Burning Crusade and the introduction of Titan's Grip in Wrath of the Lich King. Frankly, Titan's Grip is one of the abilities that changed me from a tank who pretends to DPS to an actual DPS warrior. I even tanked with the ability during the Wrath beta. While I understand and sympathize with those fury warriors who love SMF and who wanted the pre-Wrath, fast, one-handed zerking style back, I can't say I've ever been one of them. No, I love Titan's Grip. Again, this is where Mists of Pandaria shows it has learned the lessons of the past seven years. By making TG and SMF baseline we're no longer forced to choose between the two. If, as a fury warrior, you get two good one-handed weapons before two good two-handed weapons, you can use them freely.

Stepping back to where we started, newly old

Every one of the major changes to warriors in Mists of Pandaria so far -- the removal of stance penalties and stance rage loss, all abilities working in every stance, an increase in abilities that generate rage, the still-unfolding active mitigation mechanic -- have been drawn from the long history of the class. These are all things those of us playing the game years ago wanted to see happen. Execute as a tank, taunt as a DPS? Finally, being able to use our entire toolkit no matter what stance we're in? This is a redesign that's informed by and distilled from every warrior who has been before it, and trust me -- I have been every warrior before it, and I know what I'm talking about. I have leveled warriors to max level over and over again because I love the class, and right now, I love the class as much as I ever have, if not more.

I have played this class for seven years. I will play it until they stop letting me. Pick up a sword, a shield, some axes -- however you want to play it -- and let's go kill everything. No sneaking, no praying, no purring or cackling. Let's just go kick in the door, then scream in their faces, then cut off their heads and hang them from something. I hear we're getting a new banner for that soon.

At the center of the fury of battle stand the warriors: protection, arms and fury. Check out more strategies and tips especially for warriors, from hot issues for today's warriors to Cataclysm 101 for DPS warriors and our guide to reputation gear for warriors.

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